Yesterday, the tech giant Google confirmed that it had removed two custom Google Maps documents that listed the names and addresses of hundreds of activists accused by Thai royalists of opposing the country’s monarchy.
The two documents were reportedly assembled by a team of 80 royalist volunteers who planned to report the named activists to the authorities for breaches of Thailand’s severe lese majeste law.
“We have clear policies about what’s acceptable for user generated My Maps content,” Google’s parent company Alphabet told Reuters. “We remove user generated maps that violate our policies.”
The maps attempted to dox hundreds of known critics of the Thai monarchy, who began airing sensitive calls for the reform of the institution power during the large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations that rolled through the second half of last year. Such criticisms were unprecedented, in large part because the country’s lese majeste law – otherwise known as Article 112 – carries prison terms of up to 15 years for anyone criticizing the king or royal family.
The overwhelmingly youthful protest leaders also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led a military coup in May 2014, and for the drafting of a new and genuinely democratic constitution to replace the current, military-designed charter.
Despite initially refraining from employing the lese majeste law to quell the protests, the authorities unleashed Article 112 in November, charging dozens of protest leaders and demonstrators under the controversial provision.
According to the advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 100 people currently face lese majeste charges, the overwhelming majority of which “have stemmed from online political expression and the participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that took place between August 2020 and March 2021.”
According to Reuters, one of the maps included the names and addresses of nearly 500 people, many of them students, together with their photos in university or high school uniforms. The faces of those named had been covered by black squares with the number 112, a reference to the lese majeste law. The map had received over 350,000 views.
The news agency also managed to get a comment from Songklod Chuenchoopol, a prominent ultra-royalist activist who helped coordinate the doxing effort. Songklod, a 54-year-old retired army officer, confirmed that he planned to report everyone named on the maps to police on the basis of lese majeste. One of the unique elements of Article 112, and something that makes it a particular nefarious tool for quashing dissent, is the fact that any citizen can report an alleged violation of the law.
In many ways, the doxing effort was a predictable response of Thailand’s well-resourced royalist fringe to the increased scrutiny and public criticism that has been directed at King Vajiralongkorn and the institution of the monarchy. For staunch royalists, Thai identity is equivalent to blind support for the monarchy and its sometimes eccentric denizens, notwithstanding the fact that the monarchy in its current guise is a creation of the early post-World War II period.
In a broader sense, the attempt to “out” critics of the monarchy represents a sort of Thai ultra-royalist equivalent to the phenomenon of “red-tagging” in the Philippines, which has become a source of considerable danger for left-wing activists and just about anyone unfortunate enough to be accused of having communist sympathies.
Both are instances in which the internet and social media platforms, which have helped power a recent upsurge in youthful activism in many Southeast Asia nations, can also be turned to menacing and illiberal ends.